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It was like this sometimes in his flying dreams -- one moment, the strained, forced, terrified effort; then whatever was holding him gave. His muscles bulged and played in the sudden freedom.

He landed on the cabin's floorboards with Ray beneath him. Ray's eyes rolled like a frightened horse's, and he jerked, flailed, fought. Snowflakes drifted to Ray's forehead and steamed away.

Fraser held him down and opened his jaws.

So this is what it feels like to purr.

 

 


Fraser woke groaning.

The feelings ebbed quickly and then he was just lying there, a small sticky wetness inside the front of his shorts. Sometime in the night he had kicked the blankets away and in the morning breeze from the window it cooled quickly, sticky and going dry.

He rolled immediately out of bed and scraped the shorts off, balled them up and stuffed them into the laundry bag; as his grandmother had once, not looking at him, balled up a great pile of defiled white sheets. He had spent nearly a month of his puberty sleeping with a towel pinned around his hips, to spare her ever having to deal with that again.

In the months since he'd come home from the hospital, it had happened every few nights. Eventually it had become less and less frequent, but even now, it still came sometimes. This was the first morning the dreams hadn't been about Victoria. He was almost relieved.

Was it a delayed stress reaction? A sign of continuing psychological disturbance? Of course he realized that people in general attached far too much significance to dreams involving recognizable parts of their waking lives, especially dreams with any sexual or symbolically sexual content. Naturally, there was nothing wrong, or even unusual in having such dreams, since dreams were, after all, only the brain's attempt at processing the non-input to the eyes during sleep. All the same, he would have liked to talk to Ray about it; Ray always seemed to be able to fill the odd gaps in his own knowledge, sometimes by providing a perspective so unexpected that it smashed entirely through his confusion. But if it had been hard to imagine broaching the subject before, it was impossible now. The very thought of such a conversation made his throat clutch up and his face go uncomfortably pink.

He resolved not to think about it.

Thankfully, it was not his day for sentry duty. He spent several hours on paperwork, processing requests, arranging legal aid. Two hours through a particularly long and dull report, Inspector Thatcher marched in, dropped a new pile of files on his desk.

"These need to be processed by Tuesday, Constable."

"Yes Ma'am."

"I mean next Tuesday, Constable. Not the first Tuesday after whatever Vecchio ropes you into doing in your spare time." Her dress had a curving, vaguely heart-shaped neckline, green piping in a sinuous line dividing the pale pale apricot of her breasts from the navy blue of her suit. When she shouted at him, she . . . heaved. It was very distracting. "Because, Constable, if what you're interested in is freelance investigation, I'm sure you can find a rewarding career as a private detective -- outside the force."

"Understood, Ma'am."

"Good." She opened her mouth, closed it, and then nodded once more, decisively, before marching back out.

He looked across his desk at the file cabinet and ran both hands through his hair. For five minutes he sat there with his palm against his mouth, just slowly breathing. Then he wiped the sweat off his face and went back to the forms.

 


"You want to talk about it?" Ray flicked the car radio off, his fingers gentle on the controls.

Fraser licked his lips. Ray had taken off his tie and undone the top button of his shirt about an hour into the stakeout. There was something about the way the curve of his neck rose from his collar; Fraser wanted to draw it -- center that curve and angle in an abstract sketch, later fill the shapes around it in with vermillion and black.

He shut his eyes and let his head fall back against the headrest. "Mm. About what?"

"Whatever's bugging you. You haven't said ten words to me all day, Fraser." Not 'Benny' now; Ray hated not being spoken to; understandably, given his background, he saw it as a kind of punishment.

"I'll um, hmm. I think I'll just . . . fresh air." Fraser nodded uncertainly, opened the door and walked away from the Riv. The stink of garbage rose ripely around him as he touched one hand to the wall. The bricks had that cooled-sweat feeling.

Ray rolled down his window and leaned out, not bothering to turn his head towards Fraser. "Fresh air that ain't. Aw, I don't think Norton's going to show tonight. You want me to take you home?"

Fraser closed his eyes and a perverse scene clouded him for a moment -- being taken to the Vecchio home to be held -- coddled. He shook his head to clear it. "I'm fine, Ray. We should stay."

Ray shrugged. "Yeah, if you say so."

 


The stairs usually seemed so much less steep when Ray was with him. Just tired tonight.

Ray trudged up with his head drooping. "So you going to talk to me anytime soon, Fraser?"

Fraser looked at him, not sure what to say. The stakeout had yielded nothing at all, and at four in the morning, after six hours of almost unbroken silence, he could see Ray's temper fraying.

"'Cos we got, you know, ways for handling the silent treatment here in Chicago." Ray tried to smile.

"I'm not --"

Ray reached out and put a hand on his arm, stopping him. "Like, if maybe you got a postcard from . . . from somebody you didn't want to hear from, or if maybe the Dragon Lady was giving you headaches, I know you don't like to talk so much. But well, you could tell me about it."

"I would, Ray."

Ray waited a beat. "So give, Fraser."

Fraser started back up the stairs. "Well, it's nothing like that, Ray."

They reached the top of the stairs of Fraser's apartment building. "But there's something wrong, right?"

Fraser walked into his apartment, and was greeted with a sleepy wink from the white wolf lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. "Oh, Diefenbaker needs some water." He hurried to fill the bowl.

By the time he was done, Ray was idly flipping through one of Fraser's library books. He wandered into the kitchen and stood just a little bit closer than anyone else would have, the smells of day's sweat and cologne clear and familiar.

Ray waved the book in Fraser's face. "This any good?"

"Ah, well, if you care for brooding Southern morality tales, yes, quite good."

Ray rolled his eyes, shrugged. "How's Dief?"

"Fine, if insufferably lazy." He looked pointedly past Ray at the oblivious wolf.

Ray scanned the page in front of him. "What does 'morillo' mean?"

"It's the muscle at the back of an animal's neck."

"What's wrong?"

"Ray."

Ray shrugged and put the book down on the kitchen table. "Hey, worth a try. You're not gonna tell me, huh?"

"I -- it isn't important, Ray."

"This is a feelings thing, isn't it? One of those things I'm going to really wish you'd stop talking about if I get you started, right?"

Fraser felt his lips twitch at a smile.

"Aw hell. You know all those ones you owe me, Fraser?"

"Excuse me?"

"All those times you get me to do something completely disgusting and embarrassing and gross and I say 'you owe me one' and you say 'okay.' "

"Oh, those."

"Yeah, those. I'm calling one in. Tell me what's wrong." Ray put his hand on Fraser's shoulder and Fraser went rigid, too aware of how long it had been since another person had touched him.

Ray misinterpreted the stiffness and stepped away, frowning. "Jesus, Fraser, just give already."

And if he dropped all pride and fell apart now, Ray would take him in without hesitation. Ray would take care of him. Who else ever touched him?

Ray got a sudden worried look. "Hey, you're not sick or something, are you? I mean, killer case of pink eye or . . . "

He almost laughed. Sick, oh yes. "No . . . I just don't really feel like talking tonight, Ray." He sat in one of the kitchen chairs. Diefenbaker nosed up against his knee and sat there, as if lending moral support.

"Oh. Well, okay whatever . . . " Ray sat in the other chair and scratched Dief behind the ears. "Well, I haven't had jack since lunch. What's open this time of night, pizza or chinese, boy? Or how about souvlaki, huh?"

The wolf gazed up at Ray with blank adoration.

Ray petted the wolf's head and then bent over to scratch his belly. Fraser seldom petted the wolf that way -- he'd always wanted Dief to know that he respected him, almost as a fellow officer.

Ray grinned. "I think that's a vote for the Marathon Deli. How 'bout you, Benny?"

"Ah, well . . . "

Ray was looking at him oddly. "You look all weird. You sure you're not sick?"

"I don't get sick."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Look, why don't we skip the dinner, breakfast, whatever." Dief made a small disappointed sound. "Some other night, Dief. You get some sleep, Fraser, or sing or whatever you Mounties do when you have a bad day. I'll see you later."

"Ray . . . thanks, Ray."

"Just get some sleep, Benny."

"I'll see you tomorrow, Ray."

 


Fraser hid inside the telephone booth. People came up and tried to get him to let them use the phone, but he held the door closed and waited until they left. The side of his face throbbed where the girl had hit him with the brick.

A small man with a pencil moustache finally decided he couldn't wait and began beating on the glass. His voice was rather high, nasal, and he started yelling about the public's right to use public phones. The booth stank of urine, but it was some kind of refuge.

Fraser shut his eyes and ignored the man until finally, mercifully, he heard the one sound that meant safety. The sound, muffled by glass, of a Buick Riviera in top condition.

Once the man with the moustache was gone, they looked at each other through the glass door. Fraser dropped his gaze after a moment and came out.

Ray opened his mouth, swallowed the first thing he was going to say, and then the second too.

Silent, Fraser let himself be led to the Riv. Ray opened the door, then caught his arm before he could get in, staring at Fraser's face. "Who did that? The geek with the moustache?"

Fraser shook his head.

Ray sighed and shrugged. "Okay, get in."

Once the door was closed, he felt home. The Riv was like an island of peace. He was surrounded with familiar smells.

Ray walked around and got in the driver's side. "Let me look at that."

Fraser shut his eyes and turned to let Ray inspect the dark scrape on his cheek.

"We're not going anywhere until you talk to me, Fraser. You disappear in the middle of a bust. I spent the last hour and a half checking all the alleys in a ten block radius for your body. I just called Elaine and told her to stop checking hospitals."

Fraser felt himself blushing bright red. "I'm sorry, Ray."

"Did you get drunk or something?"

He felt like a little boy caught stealing. "No." He shook his head miserably.

"Did you get mugged?"

Covering the scrape down his cheek with his palm, he nodded. Skin stung against skin.

"Are you going to talk to me?"

Again he nodded silently.

Ray made a noise between a sigh and a snarl. "Okay. So we're waiting on Tom Norton to come in, I turn around and suddenly my backup's decided to take a powder." After only a second, he shook his head, swiping his fingers through the air as if to erase his words. "No, hey, forget I said that. Look, I just want to know what happened, okay?"

He couldn't stand those eyes staring at him, disappointed in him, anymore. Not while he told this story. "Please take me home, Ray."

"Not till you tell me."

"I will."

Ray shrugged and started the motor. "Start talking."

"When we were at the club -- I'm sorry, Ray. There was . . . a woman."

"Jesus H. Christ." Ray muttered almost inaudibly; his eyes stayed on the road.

"She was . . . We talked and we danced." They hadn't talked at all. It had been too loud, and while he had been able to read her lips, she hadn't been able to understand him. "We went outside and . . . We -- we were -- talking." Kissing, the swirl, the dark length of her hair around their faces. Her body a miracle, accepting him, comforting and sweet. How could he have been so stupid? Her hands on him, her smile, her cold smile. "But she wanted money." Didn't they all? Fifty dollars or a bag of diamonds. Everyone wanted.

Ray's eyes flicked to him then back to the road. His perfect driving was moving them across town at a rate that would have been terrifying, if there had been enough light for Fraser to see the buildings rushing by outside. If he hadn't been too numb to feel any fear.

"You picked up a hooker."

"I didn't realize."

"Okay." He was grateful for a moment that Ray hadn't made any comments about his judgement concerning women -- but that was unfair; Ray never, ever said 'I told you so.'

"When I . . . tried to leave, she hit me with a brick and took my wallet." That wallet Ray had given him because it was too embarrassing to be seen with a man who kept his money in his hat.

Her hands had been delicate and cool and impersonal, feeling around in the pockets of his jeans, finding only the wallet and a clean handkerchief. And when she could have killed him, just ended it there, she had run away, left him leaning against that grimy wall.

"So then what?"

"I called you." After wandering for an hour or more, wondering how many more days, months, before he would be willing to pay, just for touch.

Ray nodded and coasted the Riv into place in front of Fraser's apartment building. "Okay, Fraser. That's your story, you stick to it."

"It's true, Ray."

Ray climbed out and came around to open his door. "Come on, Fraser."

They walked up the stairs in silence.

 


When Fraser came out of the bathroom, clean, the scrape washed, Ray was fixing him instant coffee. "I really didn't drink anything, Ray."

"I know you didn't, Benny. Just drink it anyway."

He sipped. Good coffee, very sweet. Ray always made good coffee.

Ray wandered away into the other room, sat on Fraser's bed. "You really need to get some chairs in here, Fraser.

Fraser nodded. "I'm sorry I let you down, Ray."

Ray rolled his eyes. "I can handle working without a net, Benny. Just tell me what's with you. Last time you acted this weird . . ."

"It's not her." Fraser assured him. "It doesn't have anything to do with her -- except . . ."

"Except what, Fraser? I'm going to strangle you in a minute!"

"I've been --" he didn't know where to look. "Since . . . Victoria. Since Victoria left, nothing's been the same."

"You're telling me." The trip north should have fixed everything, but somehow it hadn't. He hadn't realized Ray felt it too.

Where were the words? Why did he have to be so much his father's son? "I think I, I . . . need something, Ray." He swayed in the middle of the room, not sure whether to step forward or back.

Ray misunderstood, in the most terrible way. "You know whatever you need I'll get for you. Doesn't matter if it's legal or whatever, you just ask, Benny." Those frank eyes undid him and Fraser had to kneel on the floor in front of his friend.

"No. I mean -- I don't know what I need." To be held and taken in. To be touched at least, please.

"Benny --" Ray touched his shoulder, his face squeezed with worry.

"Ray, I -- only . . ." His eyes and throat squeezed tight on the things he couldn't say, Fraser leaned forward over Ray's knees to rest his forehead almost reverently just under Ray's collarbone, feeling the warmth of Ray's skin through the soft white shirt.

He imagined the scene behind his closed eyelids. They were so still, so beautifully composed. It could have been a painting, light from the lamp warm on the left side of Ray's face and the right side of his own.

Finally Ray shifted, and Fraser tensed. But Ray only bent over him, squeezing his shoulders. "Okay, Benny. Jeeze. It's gonna be okay." He felt Ray's breath touch his hair.

A moment later, Ray pulled away, a short bark of laughter coming up. "Did we have the same day, Fraser? 'cos I thought it was you there. But I smell like a gym locker and you smell like . . . I dunno, apples."

"You smell fine, Ray." He inhaled, his face against Ray's chest. "You . . ." And then the intimacy of it rocked him and he was staring up into Ray's eyes, his lips trembling.

"Okay, Benny, it's okay." Ray repeated. Those thin arms pulled Fraser into an awkward hug and his belly was pressed against Ray's sharp knees. "Must be kinda hell, bein' homesick and pencil-pushin' down here with the Dragon Lady ridin' ya and knowin' Victoria's out there somewhere and . . . aw shit."

Gently Fraser pressed Ray's knees apart and shifted forward between them. His hands tentatively explored Ray's arms, Ray's sides, the outsides of the long thighs.

His fingers dipped into Ray's partly-opened shirt and traced down, and Ray answered him with an unbearably soft, breaking sound.

And then Ray's hands caught his wrists and pushed him away. "Jeeze Benny, you're . . . Stop. Just . . . just stop it." Ray stood up and walked over to the window, stared out, his shoulders twitching. "This isn't -- this isn't . . ."

Leaving, as everybody leaves.

Fraser leaped forward and caught Ray's wrist in a grasp that had to hurt, held him there by the window. Now it was streetlight that caught the contours of their faces. Chicago summer heat outside had faded and a cool wind came through the window.

They didn't speak.

There was sweat sliding, tickling, down Fraser's back, sweat in his hair. He felt more, cooling on his forehead.

Sweat shone on Ray's lip.

Shivering like horses they stood there, over long minutes shifting almost imperceptibly closer together, gentling to each other. Shoulders touched and Ray twitched back, spooked, but Fraser's grip held him there.

Ray's eyelids came down like blinders and he quieted again.

Thighs touched, pulled back, touched again. Chests brushing. Thighs touching.

Fraser felt the warmth of Ray's breath moving across his ear like a secret and closed his own eyes.

Finally, as though exhausted, Ray's face dropped, almost resting against the left side of Fraser's neck. Tickling exhale on his collarbone. Faint trembling as Ray's free hand moved to his shoulder, not quite touching, just hovering there.

The hand stroked lightly down his arm and then fell away. Ray's trembling grew.

A tremor ran down his spine. Ray was shaking, he was shaking. The air was cool and the ringing in his ears made it seem to vibrate around him. Ray's mouth moved, just perceptible through the soft flannel at his shoulder -- what might have been the soft mumblings of a lost man. The buzzing grew louder.

Fraser brought Ray's trapped hand up, loosening his hold just a little. He almost opened his eyes to look at it, then squeezed them shut, exploring wrist and palm and long slender fingers by touch.

He lifted the hand to his lips, and without thinking he tasted a fingertip. The ring finger. Ray's left ring finger that had once worn a wedding ring -- faintly salty skin, dusted with blowback. So there had been gunplay with Norton tonight. He could have been hurt, could have died. Could have died. Ray's moan into Fraser's shoulder -- soft and helpless.

He could die.

Ring and middle fingers he tasted, skin over delicate bone, then the tender webbing in between. He pressed his cheek into the curl of the palm and brushed his lips over the wrist. Then the middle and ring fingers again, tongue bathed, teeth scraped, and then gently suckled. Ray made a strangled noise and went rigid against him.

Fraser kissed the wrist, then tasted it with the tip of his tongue, flicking lightly. Something slightly astringent -- cologne.

Finally letting Ray's wrist fall, Fraser opened his eyes. The long fine extension of Ray's neck was unbearably close. He took a deep, gasping breath, like a diver, and then pressed his face against it. Warm and soft for him. He caressed taut skin with his lips and heard Ray cry out softly.

Ray's hips bucked just slightly as Fraser's mouth opened and his tongue flickered behind Ray's ear. Fraser found the soft prickliness of Ray's hair strange against his lips. The elegant recurve of Ray's skull stirred him again, to draw that curve, down from the crown to the nape. He followed the path of it with two fingers, his eyes shut tight, imagining a smudge of charcoal or the relentless black line of india ink on rice paper. A mandala -- he could stare at it until the rest of the world snapped into place around this essential shape.

Pressed so close now, he could feel the twitching muscles of Ray's thighs, the pounding of Ray's heart. He let one hand trail down Ray's trembling side and was answered with a whimper. His palm slid to rest flat against the small of Ray's back and he tasted the warm skin of that neck again.

Spreading his fingers, he pressed Ray's hips firmly against his own. Ray bucked again, and, when Fraser gently sucked at the tenderest skin of his neck, went on bucking, making tiny, choked sounds.

Ray's hands clawed at Fraser's shoulders as the hand on his back pressed harder, caressed. With a strangled sob, Ray jerked once, twice against Fraser, and then tried to pull away again.

Leaving.

"No!" This time Fraser grabbed both Ray's wrists, clamping them, holding his arms straight down so that he had to stay, chest to chest with Fraser in front of the window. They shifted unsteadily, like exhausted dancers. Eyes squeezed shut, Ray turned his head side to side, trying not to look into Fraser's face.

"Don't leave. Don't." Fraser had to clench his jaw, force the words out through his teeth. But they came out, out at last.

"Oh my god." Ray whispered. It was the tenderest sound Fraser had ever heard from his mouth.

"Ray." Fraser moved slowly, gently.

Ray's arms twitched, but Fraser held him still, tightening his grip, pushing Ray's wrists back and around.

Dief was peeking his head around the door from the kitchen. Fraser met those wild eyes. Oh yes, he could have howled. Dief hid again, leaving them to it.

Ray whimpered as his arms twisted, and then made a smaller, lower noise as Fraser began to walk him backward.

"Benny."

It wasn't hard to push him down onto the bed. Ray's head on his pillows, that curve shaping the goosedown. Ray's body there, across his mattress.

Their eyes locked. When Ray tried one last time to sit up, Fraser bore him back down with his body, catching those fine wrists again and pressing them into the mattress.

Bony, Ray's hips jutted up against his; and Ray's clavicle, now bared to his teeth, seemed sharp and delicate as the skeleton of a bird.

Making a sound, a stillborn sob, Ray shut his face up, eyes squeezed tight, forehead creased. He took his lower lip between his teeth and turned his face as far as he could into the pillow. Fraser mimicked the action, arching up, biting his own lip. The sense of mutuality rocked him and he crushed Ray's hands in his own for a moment before letting them go.

He ground his hips down, and felt a desperate twitch beneath him. Keeping his eyes on Ray's face, he slid back.

His hands were numb, too huge and pawing for the complexity of belts. He fumbled at the buckle and heard his own low growl of frustration.

Ray's hands came down and he batted them away. They returned, gently slid the belt open. Clever narrow fingers.

Fraser stared up into Ray's huge eyes; they were shining -- that indescribable color. Ray's trembling turned into a shudder as Fraser's hands popped the button of the Armani trousers, pulled the zipper open hard enough to make the runner jump its tracks. Ray's head fell back and he made a long, long low sound.

Fraser nuzzled at the silk boxers under the trousers. Damp heat rose through the soft fabric. Hot. Hot and twitching.

He pulled down the trousers and the boxer shorts with them and heard a rushing sound, like wind in his ears, as he cupped the shallow curve of the buttocks in his clawed hands and kissed sharp hips. His cheek brushed against that magnificently responsive heat -- he felt it burn him, mark his cheek.

Ray sat up with a breathless, almost high-pitched cry.

This is what it means to -- oh yes.

Fraser shoved Ray backwards with both hands and laid his arm across those narrow hips to hold them down. In one harsh motion of his head, he took Ray's whole length, tasting the smooth strangeness of the skin, and its saltiness, and the tiny movements as it responded to his tongue, his teeth.

He tasted twitching, and hot, and the first spurt of bitter before Ray's hips jerked violently. Up. Up. Up.

He held the hips down harder with his dumb hands and moved his head in a fumbling, powerful rhythm. More bitter. Hot bitter.

Ray's hips twisted and then his long, elegant hands were clutched in Fraser's hair, pressing needlessly down as he bucked up off the mattress.

Cries in the night.

Finally Fraser let his mouth slip away and looked up the length of the body. Muscles down the long flanks and across the narrow chest still jumped. There were tears on Ray's cheeks. "Oh god." Ray was whispering. "Oh my god."

Salty, he found, and the stubble pricked his tongue. He wanted them all, all the tastes of Ray now. But Ray still wore his shirt, his trousers around his knees.

Fraser gently stripped him, the limbs limply moving where he pushed them. Skin, sweet thin skin to touch.

Calves that tasted of soap. Chest that tasted of sweat. Slope of shoulder that tasted just slightly of blood where at one point Ray's clawing fingers had cut into his own skin. Taste of tears on the cheeks again.

He curled himself around the thin naked body, caressing gently with his numb hands. There was a faint urgency low in his belly, but tiredness overwhelmed it. He pressed his face into Ray's neck and slept.

He did not dream.

 


When Fraser woke up, at first he thought he must have spent the night running from a wild animal. His muscles twitched under his skin and cold, stale adrenaline was still whispering fightflightfight dully into his nerves.

Ray was already awake, getting dressed by the window. Still there.

He watched the slight movements of Ray's arms as he buttoned up his white shirt. One shoulderblade jutted backward for a moment, and Fraser could feel its sharpness from where he lay.

Knowing that Ray could hear him, he got up and walked across the floor. He reached around the thin body and pressed his palms flat to Ray's chest, eased himself forward until he was pressed entirely, sweetly, against Ray's back. "Ray."

Ray turned to stone, stopped even breathing, and Fraser stumbled back quickly. Oh, he knew this equation: if touch, then loss.

After a moment, Ray put his hands on the windowsill and leaned over, his head down and his shoulders tight. The curve of his buttocks was accentuated almost obscenely under the silk boxers and Fraser had to turn his head away to keep from staring.

"Ray?"

"Don't talk to me."

It took forever for Ray to turn around. With the light from the window behind him, he looked even thinner, thinner in his half-buttoned shirt and his huge shadowed eyes.

Fraser passed a hand over his face. "Arrest me, Ray."

"Oh for crissake, Fraser." Ray snarled. He picked up his trousers, inspected the broken zipper and threw them back down. When Ray's hand dropped onto his shoulder, Fraser felt it like a brand.

"I didn't -- I don't know what to do." It was the closest he could come to saying what he needed to say. Had to say.

Automatically comforting, Ray's arm curved around his back. "Okay, I know. Victoria screwed you up pretty bad. And Thatcher didn't help either. You got . . . you got confused." He moved back, off into Fraser's peripheral view, and leaned against the wall. "Just . . . confused."

Fraser tried to speak, but no sounds came out of his open mouth.

"I mean . . . I know you didn't mean . . . you didn't want--" Ray looked away.

"I . . . " He couldn't form words. Fraser stepped forward finally and touched Ray's lips with his fingers. "I'm sorry." He didn't know how to put his emotions into the words. Ray must hear them. Must know him well enough to hear them. After a moment, he dropped his hand.

For a moment he imagined opening Ray's shirt, stroking the pink nipples, guiding Ray's hand under his own shirt, to his ribs and then down his belly. Imagined Ray's eyes -- closed, face tilted a little downwards and tight with concentration. Ray's mouth, open and pliant under his -- that sharp tongue.

Something inside him contracted agonizingly and he managed a single dry sob.

"Benny -- hey. I'm not, you know, I'm not pissed off at you or nothing, okay? I mean . . . You're my best friend, right? We . . . " He turned away and tugged on his pants, buckling them over the ruined zipper.

When he turned again his eyes were haunted and shining. "Aren't you going to say anything? Isn't there one of your goddamn Inuit stories to cover this?"

Impossible. Ray still wanted to help him, still tried to reach out to him. But Ray had always been impossible. "Yes. Ray, there is. There is. Listen."

Ray turned his head away, slumped against the wall. He seemed elegantly boneless. "Yeah, I'm listening."

"Once there was, there was . . . an orphan boy, who was taken in by a family at the beginning of one long cold winter. The snow closed in, closed all around the family's little home, cutting them off from the rest of the village. The boy helped them by venturing out after what game there was. He -- " His mouth felt hot, and sticky, as though he were talking through hot molasses. "It's a lie, Ray. There's no such story."

"Nah didn't think so. You don't lie so good, Fraser."

"No."

It frightened Fraser when Ray slid down the wall to sit on the floor. Ray looked so totally drained, so empty. "You know what I'm good at, Fraser?"

Fraser opened his mouth and the words fell out. "Loyalty, gentleness, honesty, and emotions, and cooking, driving -- "

"Jesus, Fraser. Shut up. Undercover, okay? I'm good at undercover. Used to be, before. Oh shit, shit!"

"Ray --"

"Shut up!" Ray was crying. Not dry, squeezed sobs, but real tears.

Fraser knelt on the floor and took Ray's unresisting body into his arms.

"What's wrong with you, Fraser? What is wrong with you?"

Fraser kissed him, the bright spark of it shooting through his body. He laid Ray out on the floor and kissed his forehead, his eyelids, his tears. "Don't leave. Don't."

And Ray said. "You know I won't. Oh god."

There on the floor with Chicago Saturday beginning to boil through the open window, he brought Ray's hands up to his face, eased one knee between Ray's narrow thighs. He realized, not without fear, that something in him was purring again.

 

 

===

1997

For James